I love salmon. It's not hugely common in Floridian cuisine, partly because it's imported hundreds or thousands of miles, partly because there are so many other warm water fish swimming off our coasts. It's one of my favorite fish not only for it's meaty, oily taste, but because of the versatility. It can be served raw, cooked, variations in between, smoked, jerkied, or cured, and I like it all. I had a business trip to London a few years ago, and though there may be jokes about English cuisine, I ate Scottish salmon virtually every meal.
I've never actually had gravlax, though. I've had the similar lox and other cured varieties, but nothing authentically Scandinavian. Summer is wild salmon season, and July's Saveur magazine had several salmon articles, including a method for making gravlax in the fridge, in 2-3 days. My local store had a sale on wild coho salmon, so I decided now's the time.
The cure itself is made from a couple tablespoons of white peppercorns (I couldn't get the stupid top off my white pepper grinder, so I substituted a little over 1 tablespoon of coarsely ground white pepper), 1 tablespoon of fennel seeds, and 1 tablespoon of caraway seeds.
This is ground together until a coarse spice mixture develops.
1/3 of a cup of sugar, and 2/3rds of a cup of kosher salt are mixed, and the spice mixture is mixed in with that.
A good heavy cup of dill springs are very roughly chopped and set aside.
I opened the salmon and found the pinbones were still in place. Instead of pulling them out one by one, I just trimmed out the meat in a strip. I trimmed off the tail meat as well and saved the scraps for another project, and scraped the skin a bit more to make sure all the scales were gone (they weren't). I was left with a salmon fillet just under a couple pounds, skin and all.
I put a large amount of clingwrap on my cutting board and poured out half the salt/sugar/spice mixture. The salmon is laid skin-down on the mixture, then the rest is poured over the top. The dill is spread over the top of everything.
The clingwrap is then pulled tightly around the fish. The salt/sugar/spice/dill mixture will pull liquid out of the fish, so hopefully the wrapping job will be watertight. When I was done, I wasn't happy with it, so I tore off another long strip and wrapped it perpendicular to the first strip. I'm paranoid that way, I guess.
This is put on a plate (to catch any stray liquid), and put in the fridge. It'll take 2-3 days to cure, and in the meantime, the fish is sorta massaged every 12 hours to distribute the salt/sugar/spice into the nooks and crannies.
Deconstruction: When I opened the processor lid after grinding the spices, the caraway was a little overpowering. It smelled like a rye bread(*) or pumpernickel bakery, neither of which are my favorite breads. I'm not a fan of caraway. But, I figure, it's like a marinade, and most marinades are too strong to be tolerated straight, anyway. I am a big fan of dill, though, so I have good hope that the caraway won't be too overpowering. I'm writing this post 6 hours after I put everything together, and already liquid is pooling in the bottom of the clingwrap, so it looks like it's already doing its magic.
Part 2 (the finale) will be in 2-3 days, salmon permitting.
----- (*) Just wanted to mention a funny story about rye. As I said, I don't like rye bread. I also hate corned beef with a biblical fury. I'm okay with sauerkraut, but only once in a while, despite my first-generation German-American roots. I also will pick maybe 20 other salad dressings before Russian dressing.
But, I absolutely love and adore Reuben Sandwiches. I don't fully understand why. I think about this a lot (and tell this story enough that Christey's heard it a dozen times), and I think it's something of a Zen experience for me when it comes to cuisine -- that sometimes, the sum of the ingredients make something vastly better than the individual parts. Maybe it's the butter. Butter always helps.